Hop; not only does it feature adorable leading human James Marsden, but the film is as cute and cuddly as a plush, floppy-eared rabbit despite a character some may find offensive: a Spanish-accented chick named Carlos (voiced by Hank Azaria), who is secretly plotting to dethrone the reigning Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie of TV's House).
Carlos sees an opportunity when the Easter Bunny's son and overwhelmed heir, E.B. (a great vocal turn by Russell Brand, who in general is better heard than seen), unexpectedly leaves the family headquarters beneath Easter Island — simultaneously obvious and clever — for Hollywood. E.B. wants to be a drummer in a rock & roll band, not travel the world once a year delivering eggs and candy.
Once in California, he is hit by a car driven by jobless slacker Fred (Marsden). Fred actually spied E.B.'s father one Easter morning when he was a kid, but he is initially reluctant to believe the talking, jelly bean-defecating rabbit who insists on rooming with him is the Easter Bunny, Jr. Meanwhile, dad's all-female, Ninja-trained royal guard — the Pink Berets — are closing in on E.B. with orders to take him home.
While the film's plot and screenplay are far from complex (and actually bear several similarities to the 1985 Christmas-themed epic Santa Claus: The Movie), Hop boasts dazzling visuals inside the Easter Bunny's lair, which includes a fantastic jellybean fountain. Having him make his holiday rounds in an egg-shaped "sleigh" pulled by hundreds of little yellow chicks is also an amusing touch. It also features a fine supporting cast that includes Kaley Cuoco (so great on The Big Bang Theory), Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins. Director Tim Hill (nephew of George Roy Hill, who helmed The Sting among other classics of the 1960's & 70's) progresses naturally from Alvin and the Chipmunks to rabbits.
Finally, I'm glad to see a movie that draws inspiration from secular images and traditions associated with Easter. Each year, we get multiple Yuletide offerings at the cineplex, so why not make more films about Santa's springtime counterpart? And while I like religious-themed movies as well this time of year, I'll take Hop (even with its racial-stereotype villain) over The Passion of the Christ any day.
Although in a more serious vein, the new release That's What I Am (opening this Friday in LA and NYC) is a charming, inspirational indie about the hot topic of bullying in schools. It is appropriate for older children and families. Produced somewhat improbably by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the film's writer-director is Mike Pavone, the WWE's Executive Vice President.
That’s What I Am is essentially a coming-of-age story set in the mid-1960's that follows 12-year-old Andy Nichol (Chase Ellison of Tooth Fairy), a bright student who, like most kids his age, will do anything to avoid conflict for fear of suffering overwhelming ridicule and punishment from his junior high school peers.
Everyone’s favorite teacher, Mr. Simon (a terrific Ed Harris), decides to pair Andy with the school’s biggest outcast, Stanley a.k.a. “Big G” (impressive newcomer Alexander Walters), on a critical school project. Sporting thick orange hair (hence the "G" for "ginger"), a head too big for his body and ears too big for his head, Stanley has been an object of ridicule among the students since grade school. Embarrassed at first, Andy gradually takes a liking to Stanley and learns that there was truly a method behind Mr. Simon’s madness as to why he teamed the two up.
Whereas various students are bullied by others for an array of perceived deficits, Mr. Simon himself becomes the object of anti-gay bigotry. In this regard, That's What I Am couldn't be more timely despite its period trappings. Harris's real-life wife, Amy Madigan, beautifully plays the school's sympathetic principal, and WWE superstar Randy Orton makes an effective film debut as a homophobic father.
Pavone based the script on his own observations while he was in junior high, and it rings true. While the subject is deadly serious, Pavone works wry comic touches into the narration and dialogue that occasionally recalled for me Jean Shepherd's classic voiceover work in 1983's A Christmas Story.
Upholding as it does such time-honored principles as tolerance, human dignity and compassion, I recommend That's What I Am most highly.
That's What I Am: B+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.